Dr Raymond McClean: Doctor who joined Ulster's civil rights movement and later became mayor of Derry
Monday 21 February 2011
Two of the experiences which left a deep and lasting imprint on Dr Raymond McClean both happened in the city of Derry, where he worked as a GP for the entire period of the Northern Ireland troubles.
One was what he witnessed on Bloody Sunday in 1972 when paratroopers shot dead 13 men and youths. The first had happened a decade earlier in the early 1960s.
Examining an old lady who was sitting on a sofa in a house in a tough district, he suspected that she might have tuberculosis in addition to chronic bronchitis. When he ordered her to bed she told him: "Doctor dear, this is my bed. I sit here during the day and lie down here at night."
He was amazed on two counts. First he discovered that 26 people of all ages lived in the house in appalling conditions. Then he was incensed to learn that this was due to the politicalpurposes of the unionist authoritiesof the day. Appalled, McClean plunged into the early civil rights movement, helping organise marches and other protests.
The doctor's second life-changing moment came on Bloody Sunday, when 13 people were shot at a civil rights march. He himself was on the street but, since no one really expected trouble, had not bothered to bring along his medical bag. He recalled: "As we marched along through the Creggan estate and down towards Brandywell the feeling was one of carnival – we were cracking jokes and telling yarns."
But he suddenly found himself in a nightmare as 27 men and youths were wounded by army bullets, 13 fatally. As a doctor he was taken to those who were hit: some were dead, some still alive. In his memoirs McClean admitted telling a lie to a 27-year-old printer, William McKinney, who was dying on the floor of a house. "He had an entry bullet wound over his right chest and a jagged exit wound in his left chest," he recalled. "He was quite conscious when I examined him, pale and shocked but extremely calm. He said to me very calmly, 'l'm going to die, Doctor, am I?'
"I lied a bit and said, 'You have been hit badly, but if we can get an ambulance and get you to hospital quickly, I hope you will be all right.' I stayed with William until he gradually lost consciousness and died."
McClean's two encounters – with the old lady and the Parachute Regiment – were connected. The civil rights movement sprang from housing and other grievances; its protest marches led to clashes and riots; the army was sent in; and deaths mounted with episodes such as Bloody Sunday.
Raymond McClean, whose family moved to the city of Derry when he was six, came from a poor Catholic background. He attended Derry's St Columb's College, where other pupils included the Nobel Prize-winners Seamus Heaney and John Hume. He described its teaching methods as "severe, traumatic and successful."
He went on to study medicine in Dublin, financing himself partly through his football skills. He was also anexpert boxer. At one point, he wrote,"I had absolutely no money at all. I used to hang around hoping to cadge a fag from some of the more affluentstudents. On wet days I used to walk at the edge of the pavement as my shoes were leaking."
Returning to Derry after qualifying as a GP and finding himself still short of cash, he decided to join the RAF "to see a bit of the world and get the £750 tax-free gratuity." When the interviewing panel asked him why he wanted to join up he replied, "For the money." The board members roared with laughter, one of them telling him, "You are the first honest man we have met all day."
After three years serving in places such as Bahrain and treating units which included the Parachute Regiment, he returned to Derry to work as a medical officer in the local Du Pont plant, one of Northern Ireland's largest industrial establishments. He was struck by the "insidious depression and hopelessness" brought on by the city's poor housing and high unemployment.
The reason why the bronchial old lady largely lived her life on a sofa,he learned, was because the largelynationalist city was controlled bya unionist corporation. Giving Catholics houses meant giving them votes, which would have endangered unionist power. McClean was politicised by discovering that Catholics were corralledinto carefully distorted areas for electoral reasons.
He became involved in a series of the groups which were springing up, making civil rights demands such asfairness in jobs, housing and voting. But the classic simplicity of thecampaign was marred by the descent into violence. He experienced theviolence at first hand on Bloody Sunday, admitting that he was terrified as he treated the dead and injured in a house while shooting continued outside the window.
Tending the living and pronouncing several people dead was an ordeal for him: he arrived home "dazed, exhausted and speechless."
A further ordeal followed the next day when the Catholic Church asked him to attend the post-mortems, which he did, making his independent notes as the clinical work went on. He wrote in his memoirs: "The post-mortem investigations continued for almost 12 hours. I finally arrived home around midnight. I found it difficult to avoid an emotional involvement with the bodies on those slabs, with their horrific internal destruction of tissues."
McClean contacted the inquiry set up under the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, but was amazed to be told his evidence would not be required. His suspicions that Widgery would not produce a thorough-going report were confirmed by the judge's conclusions, which exonerated the paratroopers. In common with the rest of nationalist Ireland, he dismissed it as a cover-up.
He was delighted with last year's second report into the incident, written by Lord Saville, which briskly overturned the Widgery Report and said the dead were innocent.
Meanwhile a programme of reform had swept away the unionist-controlled council and begun a wide-ranging house-building programme. McClean was proud that, under the city's reformed system, he became its first mayor. But Derry's troubles were by no means over, with IRA and other violence continuing. In 1977 Jeff Agate, the English head of the factory where McClean had worked, was shot dead. The IRA fatuously explained: "Those involved in the management of the economy serve British interests. They represent and maintain economic interests which make the war necessary."
McClean reacted: "Jeff Agate was an honest and just human being ofthe highest calibre. His assassination by the IRA left me in total disbeliefand disgust."
In later life McClean spent time working with the starving in Ethiopia. At his funeral Dr Edward Daly, the former bishop who as a priest was present at Bloody Sunday, said of him: "He was a gentle, quiet-spoken person, an exemplary citizen with a great sense of responsibility to the community and a powerful sense of public service."
Raymond McClean, doctor and politician: born 1932; married (children); died 29 January 2011.
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